Review By: Alan Holloway
Back in the day, when metal was metal and band patches were cool, Iron Maiden were my favourite band. Bar none. I bought the records, wore the t-shirts and saw the concerts. When they stopped doing the medium sized venues I stopped doing the gigs, but I kept buying the albums, maybe enjoying them less than I once did, and slowly the became a band I used to love, used to follow, and ex girlfriend who was fondly remembered but had lost that vital spark that had attracted me in the first place. Their most recent album, ‘The Final Frontier’, isn’t even in my collection, because I thought it was boring. That, I thought, was the end of Maiden and me, but then I dared to open 'The Book Of Souls’…
First up, I have to say that if you buy this go for the ‘Book’ packaging as seen here. It’s an oversized hardback with lyrics and some pictures that will give you a warm feeling the first time you open it. The second thing I have to say is yes, the cover is rubbish. The band need to get Derek Riggs on the phone pronto – give that guy a theme and he always knocks it our the park. Whilst the extra illustrations inside are very well done, it’s sad to see a Maiden album with such an uninspiring cover. Remember when you first saw ‘Powerslave’ or ‘Somewhere In Time’? Eh? More of that would be nice. Anyway, that’s what’s outside, and in the end it’s what’s inside that counts, and inside you will find two discs that will plaster a big metal smile on most fan’s faces.
Two discs? Yep, not only is this Maiden’s best album for some time, it’s also the longest. It clocks in at just over an hour and a half, with just three songs taking up forty minutes of that. This is why we’re a few days behind on this review, because this isn’t an album you just listen to a couple of times. For the old school brigade there are a couple of Smith/Dickinson collaborations that gallop along like it was 1985 again, one of them being the excellent single ‘Speed Of Light’ (get thee to YouTube if ya haven’t heard it), the other, ‘Death Or Glory’ pelting along like a racehorse. This isn’t to say that the rest of the album plods along, because it certainly doesn’t, with many of the songs mixing tempo and feeling throughout, but never just settling for a laborious structure. Dickinson also gives us what will be the album’s talking point, the eighteen minute closer ‘Empire Of The Sky’. It starts with a slow piano and strings, almost like a Nightwish epic, and builds to a suitable guitar fuelled ending as Dickinson wails on about the airship R101, which crashed in France and ended British airship development as it did so. It’s a haunting tale featuring some of Dickinson’s most poetic, evocative lyrics, and hopefully will end up in the live set at least once.
I can go on, really I can, but suffice to say ‘The Book Of Souls’ has brought back a spark in my appreciation of Iron Maiden. The songs are solid at worst and excellent at best, with the whole band chipping in to the writing process, although it is dominated by Harris, Dickinson and Smith. Dickinson's vocals are as good as ever, although in all honesty his lyrics can be hard to decipher when he's at full stretch. My hope is that the first time you hear it you’ll be like me, impressed and happy that the band I used to love has reappeared with a fancy makeover and a sparkle in the eyes. We may never get the likes of ‘Piece Of Mind’ or ‘Number Of The Beast’ again, but my Bod we’ve got something special here that showcases a band who are not giving up and will not go quietly. Beastly…